Revelation has a reputation for being strange and difficult, but it should have an even greater reputation for making us poets, making us people who sing and pray, people who desire above all to worship our God.
In chapter 8, the prayers of God’s people are rising to him like incense. That’s what our prayers are to God – a fragrant, pleasant aroma. And in Revelation, this includes prayers like, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” but also prayers like, “How long, O Lord?” Whether they are happy prayers or sad, confused, desperate prayers, it’s all an aroma to God. And as soon as these prayers make their way to God, they return to the earth and explosively initiate the next episode of Revelation. There are plagues. There are demonic locusts with lions’ teeth and scorpions’ tails. If we wanted, we could analyze these strange and difficult images, trying to decode their meaning. We could allow Revelation to make us analytical. But I’d rather allow Revelation to make us prayerful.
Now and then, John not only announces the revelation he witnesses, but gets involved the story himself. A giant angel appears with an open scroll in his hand. John is told to take the scroll from the angel, but not to read it. No, John is told to eat. And eat the scroll he does.
It’s not enough to simply have something down on paper. It’s not enough to take good notes and read and understand. John must eat, must consume, must ingest and digest the Word of God. The Word has to make its way past John’s eyes and ears and brain. It must get into his stomach, his bloodstream. The Word must not only teach us, but nourish us. At first, this is a sweet taste, but after a bit becomes bitter in John’s stomach. We experience the Word of God as both sweet and bitter. It speaks words of life, but also confronts us and unsettles us.
John has more to say about peoples and nations and kings, he’s told, and shouldn’t say it on an empty stomach! No need to add more words into the world without having first been nourished by the words God is putting into us. If we haven’t first feasted on a word from God, should we even be speaking in the first place?
What a beautiful symmetry of prayers ascending out of us at the same time the Word from God is descending into us. Our prayers are an aroma to God, and those prayers are sustained by receiving the Word from God. The word that pours out of us toward God is the word that first came into us from God.
From the moment we were born, God has been planting this desire in us to know him more and more deeply, to have his life, his goodness be the very source of everything we say and do. Sometimes we fight God when he tries to plant these seeds, when gives us a word to eat, but he is planting and feeding nonetheless. He is planting within us something that is quite glad to hear an invitation from him – come and silently, peacefully receive my words; and when the time comes for you to have something to say, it will arise from what I have nourished you with.
Church, let us be silent and still. Let us take the Word of God into the deepest parts of us, not just reading or understanding, but ingesting and digesting. Let the Word of God be the nourishment out of which we have something to say to God and to each other.